SAN FRANCISCO — The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) called on the Bush administration and Congress to adopt policies of peace, as delegates to the 32nd International Convention overwhelmingly passed resolutions against the war in Iraq and in opposition to President Bush’s foreign policy.

“The ILWU opposes the Bush administration’s choice of war instead of diplomatic, economic, and other sanctions in dealing with the situation in Iraq and potential situations with Syria, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, China, and other countries,” the main anti-war resolution stated.

“The U.S. is the only nation to have troops stationed in 144 countries around the world … and has repeatedly used this military power to extend and protect U.S. corporate interests. … The United States should renounce its own use of weapons of mass destruction,” the resolution continued.

“This debate is fundamental to the future of the ILWU,” said Joe Wenzl, West Coast committeeman, who made an impassioned plea for adoption of the anti-war resolution submitted by Hawaii Local 142, which opened an intense discussion.

“The idea that we are to remain silent in the face of murder … is something we should say no to not only in this convention but in public,” Wenzl continued in response to delegates who called for silence on the war as a sign of supporting the troops. “You don’t achieve peace by inflicting war on the workers of the world. We oppose war and yet we support the sons and daughters of the working class and poor that are sent into harm’s way by an administration that tried to break the back of the longshore division just six months ago.”

Terri Mast, national secretary-treasurer of the Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU), who also argued for passage of the peace resolution, said, “We have to stand up for what this union means. Folks around the world have supported us because the ILWU has always been there for them.”

“George Bush is the most anti-labor, Anti-Working Family president ever. Is his war policy different?” asked a Local 5 delegate from Portland. “Bush wants working and poor folks to fight his war and then calls for cuts in veterans’ benefits. We want them out of harm’s way.”

Clarence Thomas, a Bay-area Local 10 delegate, argued that it is corporate interest that motivates the Bush agenda in Iraq. “It is not coincidental that Stevedoring Services of America tried to break the ILWU during their contract negotiations and five days into the war with Iraq was rewarded with a $4.8 million contract to manage the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr,” he said.

The debate also strongly addressed the cost to the American people of Bush’s preemptive war agenda, calling for reduction in the military budget while redirecting resources for adequate pay and benefits to enlisted personnel and funding for veterans’ programs, for social needs, and improving the nation’s infrastructure.

The debate outcome was influenced by a moving presentation given that morning by Ah Quon McElrath, a Regent from the University of Hawaii and former volunteer and social worker for Hawaii Local 142.

“The ILWU has a long and proud history, and it has contributed to the tapestry of working people throughout the world,” said McElrath. “Our immortality is preserved in the building of a union which continues to define who we are….”

“Only you can learn from those lessons,” McElrath told delegates. “Only you, in concert with others, can prevent moving into the bowels of a police state.”

The peace resolution passed overwhelmingly, and was followed by adoption of many related resolutions. One from Local 10 called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. occupation of Iraq and for recognition of the Arab peoples’ right to self-determination.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), commended delegates for adopting the resolutions. “We have to continue to fight against war and U.S. occupation of Iraq,” she said. “The stakes are enormous. We must challenge the Bush administration on all their policies.”

In a dramatic show of international labor solidarity, delegates made William Mendoza, the local union president at a Coca Cola plant in Colombia, an honorary member of the ILWU. Mendoza, whose life has been threatened by U.S. backed paramilitary forces who have assassinated over 4,000 unionists in Colombia in the last two years, made an emotional plea for support of a boycott of Coca Cola, which has been tied to the violence. The ILWU agreed and also gave $5,000 to the campaign.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Mendoza told the World afterwards. “You cannot imagine the joy it gives me to see the people here express their solidarity so generously with me and our struggle, with my family and the families of my assassinated co-workers.”

The convention also came out strongly against attacks on democratic rights and called on Congress “to repeal the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and other recent laws which infringe on the Bill of Rights and collective bargaining.”

The Convention agreed to send a letter to Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown demanding a full investigation of the police attack on the peaceful anti-war protest at the Oakland port on April 7 where nine longshoremen and numerous demonstrators were injured. The ILWU called for dropping all charges against those arrested by police.

The authors can be reached atand ncalview@igc.org

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